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"Can You Hear Me?" is the seventh episode of the 12th series of Doctor Who. It first aired on February 9, 2020, which like so many episodes in this series, made me compare its contents with external events as the pandemic started.

As with so many other Doctor Who stories, the story begins in a place far away: Syria hundreds of years ago, where a woman is being pursued through the streets. She enters a hospital, where it turns out that she is a compulsive thief being treated by physicians. She also sees creatures of nightmares. And while we are parsing all that out, The Doctor drops her companions off in contemporary England so they can all catch up. But while doing so, they all see and feel inexplicable things, including a bald man with head tattoos. Meanwhile, the Doctor back in Aleppo picks up the young woman since everyone else has disappeared. The TARDIS crew altogether flies to a space base where their friends have been kidnapped by the tattoo-headed man, who apparently is using their nightmares to keep a beautiful platinum-haired woman imprisoned in a floating sphere between two colliding planets. The Doctor, of course, frees her...only to find out the villain of the week wasn't keeping her imprisoned, he was trying to free her. They are both cruel (and very, very hammy) elder gods who feast on depression and despair. They are about to conquer earth and feast on people's psyche when The Doctor confronts them, showing them that since humans can confront their fears, they can confront them as well, and the medieval kleptomaniac sics her nightmare dogs on them and they get trapped again and then everyone talks about going to therapy, because seeking mental health help is a good way to defeat sadistic elder gods.

Okay, so two points here: first, Doctor Who has gotten kind of heavy handed with its message in the Chris Chibnall/Jodie Whitaker era. And I really can't fault it: I mean, I am glad we are reminded that microplastics and fear of seeking mental health help are bad, and Jodie Whitaker can give an uplifting speech as good as anyone, but it did get to be a bit much. Especially since the exigencies of the science-fiction plot can undercut the message. It is good to reach out to people in trouble, unless of course they are a platinum-haired beautiful demon lady held in a spherical prison between two colliding planets.

The other problem here is that the build-up of the threat in a Doctor Who episode is usually not correlated with how difficult it is for the threat to be dealt with. We have some extradimensional emotion vampires that are supposed to be on the power level of gods--- and the whole climactic fight is dealt with by giving a speech, a flick of the sonic screwdriver, and the attack of a space nightmare dog. Sometimes Doctor Who will build up an entire cosmological threat only to defeat it and leave time for light bantering. And sometimes, as we will see in the The Haunting of Villa Diodati, a seemingly simple Bottle Episode will provoke a true dramatic crisis.